Interactive Floor Mats And "Smart Beds": Students Look To The Future Of Design

Larger-than-life prototypes exhibit give us a sneak peak into how we might interact with objects in the future.

Nicole Koltick’s Design Futures Lab Projects 12/13 show opened this week at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. The show is the result of a full-year residency project, spear-headed by assistant professor Nicole Koltick with a program that focuses on trans-disciplinary design research using full-scale working prototypes. 

The lab, comprised of six graduate students in the Interior Architecture and Design Program, uses generative design, 3D printing and other digital fabrication techniques, micro-controllers and sensors to explore how technological innovations might augment our day-to-day environments.

Tashia Tucker's interactive floor mat

Merging the fields of biology, bio-medical engineering, interaction design, and computer science the students were asked to build working prototypes that show how our interactions with the world might change and how the much-heralded "internet of things" might manifest in the near future—showcasing how our most basic actions and routines could evolve.

We all know that we are constantly navigating a sea of microscope enemies, like germs. Tashia Tucker's project alerts us to those unseen enemies with her piece, Synthetic Biology: The Future of Adaptive Living Spaces (above). When visitors come into contact with the three interactive surfaces, they light up based upon the pathogens, pesticides, and allergens present. 

"The collection of three dynamic surfaces offers a glimpse into the interdisciplinary field of synthetic biology and the future evolution of living materials." says Tucker. "It examines how biologically embedded materials could look and function in the future through the use of micro-processing, depth imaging, a multi-pedal sensor map, and silicone casting."

Laura Nejmin's Ambient Scent Communication

Like Tucker, Laura Nejmin's project also works on the principle of creating a visualization of things that can’t be seen. Ambient Scent Communication allows visitors to manipulate emotional connections using scents. Smell can easily trigger memories and the designer plays with this to bring communication away from computer screens and telephones and into the physical environment.

You might have specific scents that trigger things in your memory, like the smell of your mother’s perfume or the smell of Crayola crayons,” Nejman explains to CBS Philly, “different things that evoke different emotions within you.” It's a similar concept to Amy Radcliffe's scentography camera and points to a future where our sense of smell becomes equally important in a digitally augmented world as sight and hearing.

Another project was Katie McHugh's Sculpted Interactive Terrain (above) which looks like a strange place to have a nap, but this is a concept for a bed that ponders how where we sleep might become an interactive device "anticipating the onset of billions of sensors in our environment."

It's a future that might look unrecognisible to us now, and bear in mind these are just experimental prototypes, but who thought pre-2007 we'd all be carrying mini-computers around in our pockets? And now we can't imagine a world without them.

You can find out more about these projects and others at the exhibition here.

The exhibition runs through July 13 at the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. 

All images courtesy of Nicole Koltick